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Ecology and Politics in Barbudan Land Tenure

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... The folk belief and traditional practices on the island have held that the island was bequeathed to islanders after the abolition of slavery. All the land outside the village of Codrington is held in common under a use-rights system (Berleant-Schiller 1978). Though it cannot be given serious discussion here (see Baptiste and Devonish in this issue), the dynamic between Barbuda and Antigua parallels that between Caribbean overseas territories vis-à-vis Europe and America. ...
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The 2017 hurricane season caused widespread devastation across Central America, the Caribbean and the South-Eastern United States. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were among the most intense Atlantic hurricanes and the costliest for the Circum-Caribbean region. For the small islands of the Caribbean, the hurricanes highlighted the acute vulnerability to climate change. The scale of physical ruin and level of social dislocation, however, do not just reflect the outcomes of a natural hazard. Continued structural dependency and outright entanglement in colonial relationships complicated recovery and coordination of aid to affected communities across the region. We argue that the experiences and outcomes of hazards like Harvey, Irma and Maria therefore invite examinations of persisting colonial power dynamics in discussions of climate hazard. Using Foucauldian theory for such an examination, we problematize simply championing resilience, without noting the possibilities for its use as a biopolitical regime of governing life. Such an appraisal, we suggest, might clarify a path toward reparations and climate change justice.
... Beginning with associated statehood in 1969 and accelerating with independence in 1981, the national government has attempted to assert control over Barbuda, converting what it views as public lands into private property or long-term leases. One scheme offered Barbudans title deeds to house lots outside of the former village wall as a prelude to more general land sales (Berleant-Schiller 1986). The Barbuda Voice preserves the vociferous opposition among those suspicious of the motivation. ...
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Barbuda remains little developed and sparsely populated relative to its neighbors in the Leeward Lesser Antilles, a rather extraordinary and relatively unknown Caribbean place. Much of its distinctiveness derives from the communal land-tenure system, itself rooted in three centuries of open-range cattle herding. Yet, as revealed through interviews, newspaper archives, and landscape observations, open-range cattle herding has declined over the past three decades, with related changes in land tenure. As the new Barbuda Land Act came into effect in 2008, codifying the communal tenure system, the very landscape elements that manifest open-range herding have become obscure. In particular, the rock-walled stockwells have become largely defunct, many of the walls lie in ruins or have been entirely consumed by the crusher that converted them into gravel to surface roads. With the principal land use that had supported communal control largely out of practice, usufruct access to land now largely obsolete, the new act might have little actual impact in preserving Barbuda's uniqueness.
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A distinctive community has long occupied Barbuda, one of the most thinly inhabited Caribbean islands. Barbuda’s 1,200 people manifest a sense of identity and an attachment to locality that stem from traditions reaching back over two centuries. Close-knit yet by no means claustrophobic, parsimonious but not miserly, conservative but not reactionary, Barbudans’ approach to using and stewarding their resources reflects long legacies of isolation, ecological constraint, family closeness, and social interdependence.
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This article examines the overturning of aspects of the colonially-derived legal system by folk law in Jamaica, and the implications for the analysis of legal pluralism in plantation societies. The plural society thesis is highly developed for the Caribbean region, the oldest colonial sphere with the most pronounced plantation systems, where social and cultural pluralism has been described as including legal institutions. The land-tenure systems of the peasantries and the elites have been analysed within this context. The Caribbean island of Jamaica has the longest plantation history and significant peasantization. The article focuses on eight peasant communities in the west-central area of Jamaica where the plantation system has been most profitable. In Accompong Town, the oldest corporate maroon society in the Americas, ‘runaway peasants’ wrested land from the plantation-military regime. In neighbouring Aberdeen, emancipated slaves squatted on plantation backlands and their descendants created ‘family lands’ from purchased lands. In the ‘free villages’ of The Alps, Refuge, Kettering and Granville, post-slavery peasants overturned legal-freehold land settlements. In Martha Brae, freed slaves and later generations transformed a colonial Georgian planter town. In the settlement of Zion, squatters have ‘captured’ government plantation land. These data raise doubts about the plural society thesis of Caribbean societies, which portrays static and entirely separate legal and customary land-tenure systems. They suggest instead a dynamic interplay between folk law and official legal codes. The analysis also revises the classic model of plantation societies as plural societies, advancing an alternative perspective on legal pluralism in such social systems.
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